Sunday, December 07, 2014

'Tis the season for viral videos -- USAF Band flash mob plays Bach chorale, "Greensleves" and "Carol of the Bells" at Smithsonian

If you've ever wanted to get a sense of what it's like to be in a flash mob -- and to be surrounded by the music of a Bach cantata or a brass band playing Christmas carols -- the U.S. Air Force Band has put up flash mob videos for two years running now. Last year's rapidly went viral, and this year's is likely to as well. It's flawlessly produced, and it gives you a sense of the precision of a military band. Here it is, on the band's YouTube channel:

The USAF Band - 2014 Holiday Flash Mob. Published on Dec 3, 2014. The USAF Band Holiday Flash Mob 2014 at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

This year's performance is a medley that begins with "Greensleeves" and "What Child is This" (to the same melody), and segues into "Carol of the Bells" (which begins with a segue at 3:09). It prompted The Christian Science Monitor to run an article with links to a sort of hit parade of flash mobs. One of their links, to a 2010 performance of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" at a food court in Ontario, is dead, but I linked it to a blog I kept for my communications students back in the day at Benedictine. (Scroll down to the second paragraph, past the assignment for final exams.) It's a classic, well worth watching again and again.

This month's flash mob follows the band's performance, at the same time last year, of Bach's "Jesu Thou Joy of Man's Desiring" and "Joy to the World" at the Smithsonian. "Jesu Thou Joy of Man's Desiring" is actually part of a larger work, Bach's cantata Herz und Mund und Tat ind Leben (BWV 147). As usual, Wikipedia has the details. "Joy to the World" is -- well, it's "Joy to the World." Everybody knows it.

Here it is the Air Force Band's website:

A first-person blog post by Tech Sgt. Kristen Bowers titled "Flash Mob! -- A blog from beginning to end" gives a detailed first-person account of the rehearsals and the 2013 performance itself. Here are some excerpts:

11:20 a.m.: Five buses arrive outside the National Air and Space Museum. Musicians file off, attempting to conceal their instruments and uniforms under civilian coats. As they enter the museum, they quickly make their way into designated "hiding spots." …

At 11:53: The Air and Space Museum is buzzing with excitement. The United States Air Force Band members disguised in civilian coats roam the museum, acting as tourists. Observing a sign stating that there will be filming in the area, a group of tourists asks an employee what is being filmed. "Something big is happening in here in seven minutes--stick around!" the employee replies. …

12 noon: A man walks to the center of the museum carrying just one chair and places it in an open area. Nobody seems to notice. Suddenly, one cellist removes a civilian coat to reveal his ceremonial uniform. He sits down and begins to play "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." A few close spectators turn and begin to listen. The cellist is joined shortly by the Band's commander and conductor, Col. Larry H. Lang, as well as a bassist and a handful of winds and strings who are each presented with their instrument by a member of the United States Air Force Honor Guard. The small group slowly turns into a mass of airmen musicians, each adding a new texture to the tune. … The music fills the National Air and Space Museum and lights the faces of the audience members. At the conclusion of the performance, the final triumphant brass chord lingers in the museum long after the musicians have stopped playing. The audience erupts into applause. …

There's lots more. If you've ever wondered what it's like to be in a flash mob, Sgt. Bowers' post is the place to find out!

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